About one out of ten people globally still lack access to drinking water, and one out of three people lack access to improved sanitation and adequate hygiene provision.
Environmental degradation, climate change, population growth, conflict and migration aggravate the water crisis, hitting the most vulnerable groups the hardest, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need.
Highlighting the urgent need to improve water resources management and access to water supply, the World Water Development Report 2019 - “Leaving No One Behind” argues that fulfilling the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation for all will significantly contribute to the achievement of the broad set of goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But this will only be possible to accomplish through regional cooperation, as the impact of water-related decisions cross political borders and affect everyone.
The work of the GEF International Waters (IW) focal area is focused on cooperation on water. With about 60% of the world’s surface water resources and 40% of the world’s population living in watersheds shared by two or more countries, cooperation on the use of shared resources is essential.
The GEF’s support to countries is unique in the international finance landscape, providing grant resources to countries sharing river, lake and groundwater systems and bringing these countries together to discuss and realize a common development vision, formulate and implement agreed actions for policy and strategy reforms and investments on regional, national, and local levels.
The GEF IW, together with its implementing and executing partners, to date has financed projects related to 47 rivers, 13 aquifers, and 15 lakes. These investments total $735 million USD in grant financing, leveraging $3.9 billion USD in co-financing. In addition, GEF is supporting an even larger portfolio of transboundary marine projects.
The following examples from GEF IW project portfolio illustrate how regional cooperation can also scale-up action at national and local levels.
Severe droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns exacerbate the water crisis in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 319 million people are without access to improved reliable drinking water sources. This, coupled with the fact that Africa harbors a significant number of transboundary rivers - there are 63 transboundary river basins in Africa, covering 64 per cent of the continent’s land - makes the continent one of the biggest recipients of GEF IW support.
With groundwater increasingly being resorted to in times of drought and for supplemental reasons GEF is placing special attention to governance and management of this “hidden” resource.
In Southern Africa, the GEF-World Bank Southern African Development Community (SADC) groundwater project, supported the establishment of the Groundwater Management Institute (GMI) as a regional center of excellence for the sustainable management of groundwater. “The GMI was set up to strengthen the ability of national and transboundary institutions to manage groundwater,” said Marcus Wijnen, Senior Water Resources Management Specialist and Groundwater Focal Point at the World Bank. “The GMI will also help advance research on the challenges facing groundwater, and promote infrastructure solutions,” he further stated.
In Malawi, for example, access to groundwater has traditionally been through ‘shallow’ boreholes. GEF funds helped construct a deeper borehole at Chimbiya, a village located about 60km south of Lilongwe, which will now provide a more stable supply of water to the 15,300 inhabitants of Chimbiya Village. Lessons from this will be informing other village water supply schemes in the region.
Also, in Southern Africa, the GEF-UNDP Orange-Senqu river basin project is implementing priority activities as agreed by countries, such as demonstration of small-scale desalination plants targeted at brackish waters found in ground-water systems, especially in southern and western Botswana. The project seeks to combine globally well-established scientific approaches with local indigenous knowledge to provide durable solutions for potable water in rural communities. This will add to the basket of solutions towards building resilience in the face of increasingly unreliable rainfall, climate variability and change. On a basin scale, the project is facilitating negotiation and adoption of a system wide environmental flows regime leading to more predictable and dependable flow releases that contribute to enhance reliable access to water by downstream communities and improve functioning of the unique low lying wetlands systems.
In Europe-Central Asia, the GEF-UNDP Kura River basin project is not only supporting the countries of the basin to work together and discuss priorities on regional level, but it also works in partnership with the Azerbaijan NGO Partner IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action) to involve communities and schools. "The Kura Box" is a toolkit targeting teachers and children to share lessons about water stewardship and conservation. It is intended to empower them to take action and improve local conditions. A total of over 1200 students will be trained in the Sabunchi District in Baku Azerbaijan, and combined with efforts to help students, local businesses, and municipal maintenance workers engage in hands on approaches to reduce and report water losses. The Kura Box was developed with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and Ministry of Education in Azerbaijan, and Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture and Ministry of Education in Georgia.
In the South East Europe, the GEF/UNDP Drin River Basin project works together with the Global Water Partnership and UNECE to support countries in their cooperation across borders and sectors - from agriculture, energy and the environment – and to promote increased involvement of women in decision-making. The project also supports investments in rural areas. For example, it recently built Kosovo’s first ‘Constructed Wetland’ - a low cost water treatment technique benefitting 1100 local residents and set to reduce sewage pollution in the White Drin by 90%.
Through its knowledge management program IW:Learn, the GEF ensures that lessons learned from such projects are being shared globally among GEF International Waters projects, country officials, CSOs, international organizations and other partners.